The Hideaway Times: Article
Monday, August 15, 2005
War’s bitter memories still assault his senses
By KENYA WOODARD | News-Journal Staff Writer
PALM COAST — It’s been more than 60 years, but time has not eroded Douglas Yoshida’s memories of World War II.
The sound of the constant air raids that would force him to hide in a bomb shelter still ring in his ears.
The pain of walking 20 miles to school in weather so cold and bitter it would crack his hands and freeze his feet can still be felt.
The smell of bodies burning in a mass grave still lingers in his nose.
Although he wishes he couldn’t, Yoshida, 71, remembers it all. He tries not to think or talk about that time, he said, because it makes him angry. But some memories, like the thick, mushroom cloud of smoke that hung over Hiroshima after U.S. forces bombed the city, will never go away.
The war robbed Yoshida of his teenage years, a crucial time of growing and learning.
At a time when most teens were experiencing their first date or going out for the football team, Yoshida and his family were struggling to keep food on the table and watching as B-29s routinely bombed the Japanese countryside where they lived.
“War is hell,” he said. “You don’t have time to think about anything. All we had on our minds is the next food, where is it going to come from.”
The 60th anniversary of Victory over Japan Day, commonly known as V-J Day, has thousands of Americans like Yoshida recalling accounts of the war and its end. V-J Day is observed as the day Japan officially surrendered to Allied forces and the end of World War II.
One of four born in Honolulu, Hawaii, to a Japanese mother and father, Yoshida was 12 in June 1940 when he and his siblings traveled with their mother to Otake, Japan, a small town about 35 miles outside of Hiroshima.
Yoshida’s father, as the oldest son in his own family, was bound by tradition to care for his parents when they became sick or frail. Yet he bucked tradition and sent his wife and children by themselves to help Yoshida’s grandmother run the family farm.
Yoshida and his siblings soon enrolled in school and began to adjust to their new lives, eventually learning to speak Japanese.
Then the war began, and the family soon felt its effects as Japan became more involved.
The family soon lost contact with Yoshida’s father, leaving the family trapped in the country and forcing his mother to raise four children alone, he said.
“I don’t know how my mother did it with four kids and no income,” he said. “We were able to farm the land enough to have veggies, but when the war started, food became scarce anyway.”
For years there was no rice to eat while chickens, rabbits, beans and sweet potatoes became staples for the family. Their home had electricity, but no running water or gas. They used homemade charcoal to heat their home and cook meals.
Air raids and sightings of warplanes became an almost daily occurrence.
“I used to see the B-29s fly so low that I could read the numbers on the plane,” he said. “Always, when you look up, they never stopped and just stayed in formation.”
On Aug. 6, 1945, Allied forces bombed Hiroshima.
Yoshida, who was at school at the time, remembers hearing the air raid siren and scrambling with other classmates to the bomb shelter. They didn’t immediately know the city had been hit with a deadly atomic bomb.
“There was an Army base in Hiroshima,” he said. “We thought there was an explosion where the ammunition was stored.”
About 15 minutes later, the group resurfaced to discover a grisly scene.
Otake began to flood with the injured and dying from Hiroshima. Yoshida’s school was converted into a makeshift hospital and the playground a makeshift grave.
The town’s two doctors were overwhelmed with hundreds of people — some with burns that covered their entire bodies — who came to the hospital to get help.
Chaos and the stench of death ran rampant, Yoshida said.
“(The doctors) didn’t know how to treat them,” he said. “A lot of them were separated from their families and were looking for them and crying for their kids.”
When the makeshift grave sites began to overflow, the bodies of the dead were stacked up, doused with kerosene and lit afire, Yoshida said.
A few weeks after the bombing, Yoshida traveled with his cousins to search for his missing uncle in Hiroshima.
“The whole city was burned down from one end to the other,” he said. “You look in the river and there’s dead bodies in the river.”
Yoshida remembers the feeling of fear hanging in the air.
“We were scared, but we didn’t know what to do,” he said.
Yoshida’s uncle was never found, he said.
Yoshida returned to Hawaii in 1948 after his father sent for the family, packed away his memories of the war and resumed his life.
After graduating from high school, he served in the Coast Guard, earned an engineering degree from California State University and married. He hasn’t visited Japan since that time, he said.
His wife of 30 years, Ruth Ann, says she learned of her husband’s life during the war from the snippets of stories he would tell others. He has never sat down with her and told her the complete story, she said.
She recalled instances when people, wrongly thinking he is a Japanese citizen, would confront Douglas about the Pearl Harbor bombing and other tragedies committed by the Japanese during the war.
Some people don’t understand the unique position that the war placed Douglas and his family in, Ruth Ann Yoshida said.
“A lot of people don’t understand that he was an American, but he had to act Japanese or he would have been killed,” she said.
Yoshida, who retired with Ruth Ann to Palm Coast in 1994, says he understands why it is important to observe the war and V-J Day. It’s a time, however, that he’d rather not remember, he said.
“I don’t even like to talk about it,” he said. “I try not to because the more you think about it, you get angry because you had no control.”
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